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The Holy Spirit - Revival Now

Diversity in Christianity1John Myhill explains why churches need to embrace the Holy Spirit to enable them to respond to those who seek their help in the midst of today’s problems.

The Holy Spirit is alive and busy in many people today, yet there are some who regard him as an historical figure with no relevance to us today.  Are our church buildings merely fine tombs for the prophets we have allowed to die in our hearts?  (Nehemiah 9:26,  Luke 11:47 – 48)
Jesus spoke to people who knew their scriptures well, and were able to understand his references to the texts.  Today very few people really have that knowledge of the Bible and that includes many Christians.  But Jesus’ gift was to persuade people that they could not understand the texts unless they looked at them through their living experience of the Spirit.  Not the dead letter, but the spirit giving life.
This message is just as vital today, only the texts have changed.  I believe that if Jesus was alive today, he would have become knowledgeable in texts other than the Bible, but would apply the same idea.  Lawyers who seek for the Spirit behind the law, rather than its narrow literal interpretation; Scientists, who see the importance of testing theories, and seeking evidence, rather than accepting our current scientific knowledge as “gospel”; Critics who see beyond the visual image, poem or other literary text, to the Spirit that makes them visionary; doctors and teachers, who refuse to be tied in knots by the increasing levels of regulation, but rather express the Spirit of their profession in their daily lives – so many ways that a modern Jesus can refuse to be controlled by literal understandings of text, to see the Spirit of love and peace behind the words.
We can all unite in reading through the Bible– our shared text – seeking the spirit behind the words, to decide which parts are most useful in reaching out to a new generation, and which parts contain the essentials of our faith.
It used to disturb me when I heard clergy say that someone weakened by suffering might be “ripe to receive the Holy Spirit”, was “vulnerable to conversion”, “ready to repent”, or “prepared to receive the Good News”, or some similar expression.
Clearly these statements are accurate.   When life is going well: with relationships, health, income and happiness all increasing, we are less likely to question the way we are living.  Only when things go wrong do most people ask WHY?  That is often the time when they will be offered answers by people who follow a religious or political belief.
This has severe implications for the way Societies work.  When there is a war, natural disaster, economic recession or cruel dictatorship; many people turn to religious and political groups that offer aid, protection, comfort, hope or an alternative vision for the future.  The same thing happens on a smaller scale when individuals experience bereavement, serious illness, unemployment or other personal tragedy.
Sometimes there is a rush to join existing organisations.  The churches may speak of a “revival”:  extremist groups may prepare for a ‘Holy War’; whilst moderate comfortable churches find themselves overwhelmed by the needs of the sudden influx of newcomers with complex needs. (This was the situation that the Apostle Paul addresses in his letters.)
Sadly, I can find no middle ground where we can sit, detached from this problem, secure in our own comfortable way of life, ignoring the huddled masses, the individuals suffering a life crisis: -
We can take a bureaucratic stance, and try to draw up rules and regulations, to control the flow (the letter killeth).  But truly, this is an evasion, doomed to take us towards the Exclusive Brethren, or a posh club, or even genocide. (Every time we reject another human being, we risk increasing the suicide rate.)
We could take the Dawkins line, attacking religions for offering beliefs, when what people need is a scientific understanding of what has happened to them.  They are victims of natural events, and by supporting Scientific research, they can prevent similar disasters at some distant time in the future.  Such a response may appeal to those who are living comfortably, but it is rarely sufficient in the face of a personal tragedy.
“Why me? Why now?  I have lost what gave my life meaning.”  If all those experiencing personal disaster entered science or advocated scientism, science would be overwhelmed (just as religions are) by the huge number of incomers.  The sciences would soon become divided by sectarian conflicts.  This does not happen, because science has its rules and regulations, which exclude most people from membership of the research institutions.
But, worse than this, the anti-religious side of science is used by Governments as an excuse to suppress popular movements, which adopt religious arguments as the basis for anti-government views.
It is perfectly clear why religious groups tend to oppose Government policies.  It tends to be religious groups who respond first to the needs of the poor, when government cutbacks take away state provision; when unemployment, illness, loss, displacement and so on, cease to be the major concern of the state, then it is the compassionate few who take on this task.  Knowing they cannot cope with the huge numbers of the dispossessed, they turn to Government for help, and when they are rejected, they become political.
When government responds to the politically engaged religions by legislation: against wearing a cross/ crescent; not allowing large public demonstrations, forbidding the public expression of religious beliefs that might inflame conflict: then we are on the slippery slope that leads to religious persecution and ultimately the imprisonment and execution of believers, as happens today in many countries.
Wars have never been fought over religious beliefs, because all religions were founded by pacifists.  Religion is used as an excuse for violence, riot, killing, Jihad, persecution, genocide; by those who seek political power through leadership of the oppressed against their oppressors.
This can only happen when the true believers have failed to provide a prophetic vision, which appeals to the masses, who have experienced disaster and is acceptable to those with economic power.
That vision is alive and well, but those who hold it are few.  Most of our churches are already overwhelmed by those seeking comfort, for personal problems and life crises.  They comfort each other, with human kindness, but they have no vision, so when the numbers increase suddenly, as they are doing now, they are soon overwhelmed, revert to exclusion, or sink, or divide in schism.
My vision is for our congregations to discover the Holy Spirit within each one of them; so that they are not weak, vulnerable or rule bound, when discovering the strengths of the incomers.  They should be able to talk about their faith and what it has done for their lives, whilst discovering the strength, Light, gift, of the incomer.  In short, they must establish a friendship based on equality, in which we seek together for a way forward, that takes life crisis, not as a disaster, but as an opportunity to discover what really matters. 
This is a journey we can take together, because it is not about providing rules, jobs, health, housing or money: but about who we are and why we are here; about beauty, pity, truth and love.

JohnMyhill450John Myhill is a Norwich Quaker, retired magistrate and author. His blog is at http://johnmyhill.wordpress.com/

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